Yanto Browning is a Producer and long-time collaborator of Tara Simmons, who together made her final record Show Me Spirit ‘Til The End.
Currently an academic at the Queensland University of Technology, Browning has in past produced music for the likes of Kate Miller Heidke, Mosman Alder and more…
Hear in this extended chat about how a great record was made from an equally great and creative artist…
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IMAGE CREDIT: Album Cover / Sophie Richards
On personal note, Tara was such a supporting inspiration of a musician and human. Mean the world to me (john) if you gave this record a listen or three.
SHOW NOTES: Yanto Browning
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Feature Guest: Yanto Browning on the life and music of Tara Simmons
We’d make pickles between making songs, somedays
- Show Me Spirit ’Til the End (LinksTo)
- Tara Simmons Music – Facebook – Instagram
- Yanto Browning – Facebook – Twitter – Instagram
- Airlock Studios (Offical Site)
- The Recycling Bin Song – off All The Amendments (Bandcamp)
- Peet Gardner (So Soap Studios)
- Briony Luttrell (Strings Specialist)
- Spilt Milk (LP) Launched Saturday 14th February 2009 – on Apple Music, Spotify and Bandcamp
- Tara Simmons 1984 – 2019: An Open Letter from Yanto Browning (scenestr)
- It’s Not Like We’re Trying To Move Mountains (LP) – on Apple Music, Spotify and Bandcamp
- Athens – off Show Me Spirit ’til the End (Bandcamp)
- Megan Washington (Official Site)
- Devotion – off Show Me Spirit ’til the End (Bandcamp)
- Mater Hospital Brisbane (Official Site)
- Chris O’Neill Day In Life… (InsideOut)
- Robert Davidson (Topology)
- Opening doors to young people with autism for post school to university: Super conductor and the big game orchestra (QUT ePrints) + The Other Country by Michael Whelan (Pan Macmillan)
- Be My Lover – CastleRays Produced by YesYou on Soundcloud, AppleMusic and Spotify
- Julie Simmons (Aritst)
- Hilltop Hoods (Official Site)
- Ed Kuepper (Artist First Site)
- Telegram (EP) – Kate Miller Heidke (CD – Official Site) also on Apple Music and Spotify
- Rain Lover (LP) – Halfway (Bandcamp) – Asphalt Rain (Official Music Video)
- Happiness Is… (LP)- Leanne Tennant (Official Site) – Everspin (Official Music Video)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts [Music] – (QUT)
- Sunset Melancholy – Tessa Fleur (Official Music Video)
- Small Tits Big Dreams by Coby Grant – Album Dedication (YouTube) – Grant’s album on Apple Music and Spotify
- For Tara – Coby Grant (Official Music Video)
- The Milk Carton Kids (Official Site)
- ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ Follows a Gritty Coming-of-Age in 1980s Australia by Amelia Lester (The New York Times) – Boy Swallow Universe by Trent Dalton (Harper Collins)
- Indie 100 India 2018 (QUT ePrints)
- Young musicians can make it in the real world with… Dr. Kristina Kelman (TEDx Talks) – No Walls (QUT)
- Quiet Ferocity (LP) – Jungle Giants (Offical Site) – album on Apple Music and Spotify
- Empire Studios (Facebook)
- Dean McGrath of Hungry Kids of Hungry (Bandcamp)
- Beg & Plead – off Show Me Spirit ’til the End (Bandcamp)
- GYROstream (Official Site) – Tyler McLouglan (The Sound Pound)
- Body Hum – CastleRays Produced by YesYou (Soundcloud)
- Be Gone – Tara Simmons (Official Music Video)
- I Cannot Be Saved – Tara Simmons (Official Music Video)
- Without Love – Ben Abraham & Tara Simmons
- Other – selected – Yanto Browning release
Next Episode: The Bell Streets
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[Radio Production – notes: ]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
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First version provided by REV team member Courtney R – check to audio before quoting wider
John Murch: Let’s get that connection first. When did you first meet Tara Simmons?
Yanto Browning: I can’t remember the exact year, but I’d say 2003. It feels like it was 2003 or 2004. It could have been 2002. It was almost 20 years ago. She studied at QUT and I studied at QUT, and I think by that stage, I might have even been teaching there part time. I’m a bit older than Tara. So yeah, I think I met her when I’d completed an undergrad degree and she was in first year.
John Murch: What was that first meeting like? If you can remember, what was the first conversations?
Yanto Browning: I heard her before I met her, actually. A friend of mine, a collaborator I used to do kind of electronic more club-based stuff with, he had done a short recording session with Tara, who he’d been in touch with through someone else. So I actually heard her voice on this track that he’d been working on, that we were collaborating on, and I thought, “Huh, this is something interesting.”
Yanto Browning: So I clearly remember hearing Tara for the first time. I remember that, for some reason, more than meeting her for the first time. When I did get to know her, I was just astounded at how advanced she’d become with this very particular aesthetic that she had around, a kind of glitchy, cut and paste stuff, mixed with cellos and almost folk songs. It was a real kind of unique thing right from the outset, so I was taken by that very early on.
John Murch: I remember playing her back in 2007, which was the Recycling Song. The Recycling Bin song, I should say, which was a bit of an anti-radio anthem, but even in that she said, “To be in control, play God,” was one of the lyrics of the song.
Yanto Browning: She was a great lyricist. I think that song had actually been kicking around for a couple of years before it got released. I was certainly hearing the initial ideas that would become those first couple of EPs. And I didn’t work on those EPs at all, I’d worked on one track to collaborate Tara as a vocalist, under a different moniker that many a collaborator had way back when. And otherwise she was quite self-sufficient in the studio and she was pursuing this quite singular set of ideas that things would be built around, glitch cut-up sounds and three cellos, double bass, a drum kit, and her voice.
Yanto Browning: She didn’t really need… She had some help, Peet Gardner another very talented local producer and engineer. I know Peet helped with tracking and mixing some of those early EPs but yeah, I didn’t really work with her until end of 2008 I’d say, a little bit after that. So I’d known her for a long period before we really actually started working together and that lasted a decade or so.
John Murch: Musically speaking, what was the mateship initially about?
Yanto Browning: I’d been living in London for a couple of years and then I’d been in touch with Tara. Tara had contacted me out of the blue asking if I wanted to help mix what was going to be the Spilt Milk record so I didn’t really work in the production of that. She did that with Briony Luttrell, again, someone who’s just a very talented producer and did a wonderful job.
Yanto Browning: Then I flew in, I moved back to Australia because of the financial crisis. My work in London was drying up really quickly. I think I arrived and caught the train up to Brisbane the following morning and just slept on Briony’s couch for two or three nights and helped them mix the record and that was where it kind of became “Oh, I’m back in Brisbane now” and Tara’s doing really interesting things and we just started working together from then.
John Murch: In your piece that you wrote on her passing in coming up to this particular album, you actually did cite that no marketplace rather sounds that energized her. It was the actual music itself. It was so pure that there wasn’t actually a market for which she was aiming for.
Yanto Browning: Yeah and as a result, I don’t think there’ve been very many reviews of the record either. It’s certainly going to slide under the radar and kind of sneak under the radar entirely but I think for a period she had a little bit of triple j support, and I think with We’re Not Trying To Move Mountains record, I think that in the back of our heads, I think with that record there was that… It was kind of unspoken but there was this feeling that maybe it would be wise… Not wise, but the plan was trying to capitalise on that a little bit and trying to make sure that the record was in line with what was happening on triple j at the time, and that sort of pervades the writing and the production of it a little bit more than perhaps we wanted in hindsight.
Yanto Browning: But all of that was entirely absent from this record because the process of making it was cathartic rather than career focused. Especially when Tara knew the severity of her condition that there was no need to even consider a career, it was rather considering what a legacy would be, or what a final piece of work would sound like.
John Murch: She did state when asked what is your biggest worry going through, heading towards death, and number one was not being there to support friends and family grieving her death. That was number one, but number two, and I’ll quote this directly, “That I can’t finish my record in time. It feels like my legacy because I don’t have kiddies.”
Yanto Browning: I think she wrote that three weeks before she died.
Yanto Browning: We spent a lot of time, the week leading up to that and the week after, where she was still more capable, we did a real sprint on the record at that time.
Yanto Browning: The only song that she didn’t hear in its completed state was probably the final one, which we had just run out of time to work on the production. That’s the one where we tracked vocals in the palliative care ward. It was unfortunately just really downhill quite quickly from there so she didn’t really hear… But it didn’t change much from the initial idea that she kind of presented me.
Yanto Browning: I feel like I had to make a couple of editorial choices on that one, kind of production things and arrangement things, but I tried to keep it as that ridiculous nineties look that she had started it with. I didn’t play with it too much.
Yanto Browning: But that one, and she didn’t actually… No, that was it, that was the only one that we didn’t… That I never had a chance to play to her what is ostensibly the finished version.
John Murch: So that was Athens we were talking about there?
Yanto Browning: Yeah, Athens.
John Murch: There’s another track I do want to mention. I did actually see Tara’s funeral which in these times seems normal to stream on Facebook but it was weird being here in Adelaide, South Australia and that’s the backing vocals that were added to Devotion.
Yanto Browning: Oh! I knew I was forgetting one. Yeah.
John Murch: Though added by Megan Washington who performed at the funeral. Can you talk us through that process?
Yanto Browning: I think Tara had run into her at a suburban food court or something. Megs was back in Brisbane. Tara had met her. It was after she’d been diagnosed but before it became really serious.
Yanto Browning: They’d kind of struck up this friendship and I know Tara always respected Meg an awful lot. I’d knew Megan when she was a student, like again, about 20 years ago and I’d run into her occasionally over the years at festivals and the like.
Yanto Browning: But then she performed at Tara’s funeral and the fact that she was able to learn that many songs, so quickly, and then just sing the shit out of them. She really… That brought me to tears as well. I was sitting there playing guitar on a couple of them. I was trying to grieve but I was also just trying to take in Megan Washington sitting behind a wurlitzer in front of me just singing the hell out of some of Tara’s best songs.
Yanto Browning: It was the weirdest. It was a real mixed, strange mix of emotions. And then that was the other thing that Tara didn’t get to hear. Tara and I had spoken about getting Washington to do backing vocals because they’d met again and I think that Tara was reticent to just ask her directly and say… Because it’s like… Tara used to call asking… She’d say, “I don’t want to give her cancer vibes” you know or something like that.
Yanto Browning: So she didn’t want to directly ask but then after the funeral and having a chat with Megan, there was this one song that Tara had always mentioned the backing vocals, that Megan would song great doing backing vocals on it so yeah, we tracked the backing vocals for Devotion. That was the other thing that we did that Tara never got to hear but I know she would have loved them because again Megan just did an amazing job.
John Murch: Talk us through Yanto, because you were there, what the experience was of Tara’s legacy at that point, at the funeral, the community getting behind her and saying goodbye.
Yanto Browning: Oh that’s a tough one to answer. I don’t have the words for it. I don’t have a reference point. I haven’t had enough young friends die well before their time who had that sort of support from the community. Just the people that were there.
Yanto Browning: Tara would bring people together. There’s no doubt about that, even before the funeral… My partner’s a nurse and she works in a cancer ward as well, but even the wardies at the Mater said they’d never… The people in palliative… They’d never seen anything like what people brought together for Tara.
Yanto Browning: The room was just transformed with fairy lights and photos. She was sung home to her tribe for about 12 hours by some of Brisbane’s finest artists.
Yanto Browning: At the wake, Chris O’Neill, had been playing drums with her for 20 years and was able to play in that last band. Megan held it all together, just a one of a kind artist. Rob Davidson was there playing double bass. All of her old cello friends. I hopped up for a song or two even though I’d never actually played live with Tara under the Tara Simmons artist name. I’d always just been a producer.
Yanto Browning: The people from all walks of life that had been brought together but this really special human, this real special little human. It was much bigger than her stature in so many ways.
John Murch: The first Instagram post that you did on YantoMusic back on the 15th of December, 2011: Tara Simmons, standing on a footstool playing some keys, most likely a Moog in the background.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, that’s where she couldn’t reach the top of the rack. We put a little footstool up there.
Yanto Browning: Ha ha, I’d forgot about that. She introduced me to Instagram which I’ve seen probably abandoned aside from a post every two years or so. I don’t have any need for it.
John Murch: Our very special guest today is Yanto Browning in light that Tara Simmons couldn’t join us because of her passing. The record was probably on track and then things turned.
John Murch: What did Tara have?
Yanto Browning: She had breast cancer. It was a particular nasty kind and she would have been diagnosed in winter, I always get my years mixed up, it was winter 2017.
Yanto Browning: So she had a mastectomy pretty quick, soon after that. It was just such… I don’t even want to say rollercoaster because rollercoasters kind of have ups and downs and there actually weren’t that many ups. It was just like she took a series of hits of bad news, one after another.
Yanto Browning: It was only 18 months from diagnosis to her dying. The one moment of hope was she ended up in the final place of a clinical trial that had had some promising results for that particular form of cancer. She was obviously wasn’t one of the lucky ones so… The timeline was winter 2017 and then she died in January 2019.
Yanto Browning: She got a lot of bad news. I’m at my house now and we had a little studio under the house so we spent a lot of time here because I had just had a firstborn in December 2017 as well, so I was trying to balance new father life with making a record with my really sick friend.
Yanto Browning: I remember clearly, at least two times, we were in the studio and then she would get a call and it would be another piece of bad news. The mood would shift quickly and we’d stop making music and just have a glass of wine or dance around the lounge room, make her dinner, and just keep her here for as long as we could so she wasn’t feeling too alone.
John Murch: It sounds very peaceful there.
Yanto Browning: Yeah it is. It is, it’s nice. It’s a top a hill and there’s very few cars coming past. It’s a nice spot. It was peaceful except for the six-month old.
John Murch: I’m sure she found fun in that somehow.
Yanto Browning: Oh she did. She was the only person… I don’t think she’d mind me saying this but Tara’s humor to the absolute T, she’d be like… Everyone else was very traditionally quite happy when you find out you’re going to be a parent for the first time.
Yanto Browning: She said, “Why you having a kid now because I’ve got cancer and I need to make a record.” But she came around and she’d have great cuddles with our little one in the end.
John Murch: This year alone you’ve ended up with two children. Tara’s record as well as a second child.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, but it feels like I’ve processed so much of it. That record was finished June or July 2019 and then it was kind of sitting on it for a release plan, and timing and things, and all the stuff that goes with it.
Yanto Browning: But it was finished six, seven months before it was released. Yeah it does, it feels like… And I haven’t really had to pay much attention to how it’d been received. I suppose I’m kind of curious, I’m not sure if… I mean I think it’s a good record but it’s very much a product of a unique set of circumstances so I hope that it stands on its own two feet as well as just providing an opportunity for my friend to leave a legacy behind.
Yanto Browning: But yeah, it feels like that child was born last year for me and it’s just the rest of the world is seeing it for the first time.
John Murch: You mentioned Tara’s great sense of humor. I was wondering if you could explain to us how you saw her looking at that abyss of death because she definitely, and people can check this on her Instagram stories, had a very interesting view of death and how to handle it.
Yanto Browning: Yeah she’d been preparing for that sort of psychic trauma almost her entire life. Tara had battled all sorts of issues with anxiety and depression and had responded really well. She kind of hit a good spot, it’s almost unfortunate she was just finding real mental… I don’t want to say clarity but being comfortable in her own skin and being more balanced I suppose mentally.
Yanto Browning: Then she was hit with this, but the way she responded to that, it gave her this unique clarity it seems in that she really just looked at the world in an entirely new way and all of the small things that probably used to weigh really heavily on her shoulders, it was almost like a weight got lifted.
Yanto Browning: It’s almost like the weight got lifted and was replaced by this horrible shadow but when the shadow wasn’t there she had a lightness that was certainly not there when she was in her, you know, early and mid-twenties.
Yanto Browning: I think that that’s clear in her last Instagram stories and she wrote so eloquently about her experiences as well and was able to share that in a way that, I mean I certainly would never be able. I just don’t feel that that sort of engagement with the privacy of processing your own mortality and then sharing that in a way that seems so open and without any airs.
Yanto Browning: This might help some other people so I can do it. This is how I feel and this is how I’ve processed it and hey, it’s all going to happen to us anyways so at least I’ve got the opportunity to process things and put my affairs in order.
John Murch: What I adored about Tara was that balance and you’ve mentioned this so please, if you can explain it in your own words, that of facts, and that of being a dreamer. Nuts and bolts of something versus well one day this will happen. So facts versus dreamer.
Yanto Browning: She was the most rational of rational creatures. She basically was studying… She was an epidemiologist as a hobbyist. Epidemiology is horribly complicated and not something most people would do for fun but that was kind of her jam mentally.
Yanto Browning: She was well into that. Where we worked on a project for transitioning children on the autism spectrum disorder into… And again, that spoke to the rationality and her… She worked for Queensland Health. She was studying biostatistics. She was doing a Masters in that I think. She’d done psychology, she’d completed a psychology undergraduate.
John Murch: Opening doors to young people with autism for post school transition to university: Super conductor and the big game orchestra, August, 2018.
John Murch: Maybe a quick idea of what it was about, what you two were working on?
Yanto Browning: We were part of a bigger team. Michael Whelan who was a colleague at QUT and has done a lot of work in that space. He was very much the leader and then Sophia was with us from education and then Tara and I… Tara was helping Sophia with data collection and analysis.
Yanto Browning: I helped a little bit with that but I was building this computer game. It was the wackiest thing to do and it actually worked. I’m not sure anyone’s ever done this before or anyone’s been stupid enough to, but we built a computer game that sent real time messages to a small orchestra, so that the computer game music was performed in real time by a small orchestra because a lot of young adults on the autism spectrum are quite comfortable working with computers.
Yanto Browning: We had them build a small unity game, just a very silly little two-dimensional platform shooter where they got to do the artwork for these animals and then be a wildlife photographer running around trying to photograph these animals.
Yanto Browning: Then there’d be a level-up sequence so depending on… And you have to get enough points, so then the orchestra would be sent this message that the level-up sequence was happening in 3-2- and then they’d have to change the entire score. So the score would adapt in real time to what was happening with this computer game, which was kind of a crazy idea. It was weird that it worked as well as it did.
Yanto Browning: It was difficult to pull it off and we haven’t run it again since but it was great for the kids as well because then they’re playing a video game with a PlayStation controller, and an orchestra would stand up and start moving towards them depending on where it was. It’s quite an immersive experience for a dinky little platform game and then Tara was part of the team that would interview and then code the data from the interviews to try and develop a clearer picture of what would assist young adults with autism spectrum to feel more comfortable in University setting, qualitative data collection and coding.
Yanto Browning: She was perfectly suited to it. She did a wonderful job. So there was that side to her personality but then there was Tara the potter and Tara the songwriter and Tara the pianist and cello player. The “chemist or a dreamer” line, I think was a way that she could articulate these two competing parts of her personality, the rational side and the side that was very much, I don’t want to say a romantic, but very much in touch with the poetry of life I guess.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, I think the dreamer won and I’m happy about that because that was the final six months of Tara’s life was true love. It was quite something.
John Murch: She did get the boy in the end?
Yanto Browning: Yeah. Yeah and I think that was a surprise, probably a surprise to both of them, I don’t know.
John Murch: Life is mysterious like that and we’ll leave that chapter where it is because we’re talking about brand new record, as you said, it’d been out for a few months now but released in the public only for a few.
John Murch: Talk to us about the test pressing and how it felt when and if you spun it.
Yanto Browning: I listened, because that would have been February I guess? It was only a few weeks before the album launch.
Yanto Browning: I hadn’t listened to the record in probably five or six months maybe because I had listened to it an awful lot in the six months leading up to that. It was nice to have a break from it.
Yanto Browning: I came home and I poured a healthy whiskey and I put it on, and I listened to it. I was probably in tears halfway through the first song. It was lovely to listen to it and go “Well, I can’t change anything now because it’s finished.” There’s something final about a physical copy.
Yanto Browning: Even when it’s digital it feels like I could, you know. It felt like a record… Because it was made under such trying circumstances and so quickly and so imperfectly, there’s always things I would hear and I’d want to change but then the beauty of vinyl is it kind of makes a few of those, it kind of blurs the edges a little bit.
Yanto Browning: I didn’t hear anything that I wanted to… That I couldn’t live with which to me is a success.
John Murch: The A-side is pre-diagnosis and the B-side is post-diagnosis. Is that correct?
Yanto Browning: Roughly. Roughly correct. We didn’t…
Yanto Browning: Well we, I suppose I was the one left to do the album order so I don’t think we ever spoke about it. That was the first one and we just stuck with it because everyone I played it to seems kind of happy with it.
Yanto Browning: Let’s go through them. Achromatopsia, yeah. Four Leaf was an early cancer song but I can’t recall if Tara had finished the vocal before diagnosis.
John Murch: There’s a Plonk Piano, What The..?
Yanto Browning: We just found stupid names. We were always just using stupid made up names. I think it started as just the Plinky Plonky Piano because there was massive heavy old upright that had been left on Tara’s verandah which had then been just naturally weathered. It hadn’t been tuned in a while, it was not maintained to the highest standard of upright pianos, and then she just recorded the song with that.
Yanto Browning: And the vocal, I think we kept… No we retracked the main vocal and kept some of her originals as backing vocals, but the piano you can just hear and you can probably hear it outside here now as well, but you can hear just insects and birds in the background because it was tracked on her verandah, on this beaten up old weathered upright that we just referred to as the plonk piano.
John Murch: The next one is Mess It Up Again.
Yanto Browning: Mess It Up Again was definitely a post-diagnosis song. Maybe the verse had been started but the middle, I clearly remember Tara tracking the middle late, and I always thought that that was alluding to her condition.
Yanto Browning: A song that we sat on for ages and then it only got finished right next the end.
John Murch: This is blowing my theory out of the water. Maybe I’ll be more successful with the next track because I think this is the-
Yanto Browning: Twice Your Size was finished, yeah, before. We even played that live a couple of times under a different alias so that was a CastleRays track for a brief period of time and then…
Yanto Browning: So that vocal was probably tracked in, I want to say 2016 I guess? That was one of the oldest tracks on the record.
John Murch: I was given the CastleRays track Be My Lover in 2014 but I wasn’t told what it was and I was asked very firmly to play it on the radio and I did.
John Murch: I’m assuming it was you and Tara?
Yanto Browning: No, CastleRays was just a moniker that Tara had for stuff that didn’t feel like it was working under her name. So if it felt a little too kind of angular or too clubby, anything that didn’t feel like it would work under a Tara Simmons release, she had this, like a side project for her.
Yanto Browning: The initial creative force behind those productions were YesYou, that was post-Trying to Move Mountains I guess and Tara was just looking for some other things to do.
Yanto Browning: Maybe that fizzled out a little bit so then I started working with her again, co-writing stuff in 2014, 2015 and we just kind of kept using that moniker, kept using the CastleRays name and only realized a few months before she died that that was just a play on words from Castlereagh, which is near the Blue Mountains, and is where she grew up.
Yanto Browning: We had plans on doing some more CastleRays stuff. We performed live a few times and then Tara got sick and it became important that there was a Tara Simmons record and not a CastleRays record.
John Murch: Yanto Browning is our very special guest. We’re midpoint having a conversation with him about the album of the year for me, Show Me Spirit ’til the End.
John Murch: What’s your most memorable experience working with or even being with Tara Simmons the artiste?
Yanto Browning: I could not think of one. It was most of my thirties basically, which spend, on and off making music with Tara. I can’t think of a single, and it’d just be cherry picking.
Yanto Browning: She would say the most outrageous things and we would laugh.
John Murch: What was the deal with pottery? That seemed to be a peak in the last few years.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, well her mother Julie is a tremendously talented painter. Just really quite a special artist. Must be in the blood somewhere.
Yanto Browning: I don’t know how Tara got onto that, I was never a part of that, I never went along with her but for someone who took it up so late, some of the stuff that she would show me was really quite sophisticated for a beginner.
Yanto Browning: My father was a potter. He was head of a pottery association on the Gold Coast when lived there, in Adelaide he was a big part of the pottery community in Adelaide, but I never took it up so I’m only speaking from a casual observer but from someone who spent their childhood around pottery, but Tara’s pieces were just phenomenal for someone who was just starting out.
Yanto Browning: I’d remember helping her into her car one day. She opened up her boot and it was just full of this stuff that she’d just fired. I’m like “This is really good stuff!” So I think she just found that as another way, a cathartic way, to deal with her illness. She was like a poster child for Frankie before it became cool to be like that.
Yanto Browning: She was always making things and doing things. She bought a house really early on because it was just sensible and she just found a way. She just transformed the garden into this really productive garden. She had banana trees, she had really healthy tomatoes and zucchinis. We’d make pickles between making songs some days because she’d just bring this harvest of green tomatoes to my house.
Yanto Browning: She was very connected to making and doing things. Her green tomato pickle was something special.
John Murch: I will get back to Tara and her record but you did mention Adelaide. 10 years of age, Belair, South Australia.
Yanto Browning: I loved growing up in Belair. I have nothing but fond memories of Belair. I went back there because I’ve got a lot of family still. My grandmother lives there, I’ve got an auntie and an uncle in Adelaide, two cousins I think, some old family friends. I hadn’t been back in years and we took a trip last winter, mid-July, it was probably mid-winter.
Yanto Browning: Because we don’t get a lot of cold up here in Brisbane and so I hadn’t been back for many years but it was all very familiar. I have nothing but fond memories of growing up in Belair. My cousin went to Blackwood High. He must have been there around the same time as the Hilltop Hoods.
Yanto Browning: There wasn’t a lot of hip hop that I recall in my childhood. So I lived in Belair until I was probably nine and then lived in Grange for a year when I was 10.
Yanto Browning: In a streak of cruelty my parents moved me from Adelaide to Rockhampton which was, if you can think of the two cultural opposites in Australia, it would probably be Adelaide to Rockhampton.
Yanto Browning: I’d be playing cricket in Adelaide and we’d all have our nice whites and the grass would be green and then you go to Rockhampton and you kind of have one pad each and you swap bats in the middle and it’s just dead grass and bindis everywhere.
Yanto Browning: It was quite a shock. We had close friends in McLaren Vale so we’d spend a lot of time at a vineyard in McLaren Vale down at Coriole and then friends with a lovely old house in Glenelg that I recall really fondly. I really like Adelaide.
John Murch: Belair, for those international and those not so local, has a National Park at the doorstop for which Senator Sarah Hanson-Young regularly, because she’s in that area, regularly goes for her morning runs and stuff.
John Murch: So did you at a young age Yanto, have a connection with the environment or at least the natural-
Yanto Browning: Oh yeah. Yeah, we lived right on the hill in Belair and we had a fairly decent enough property. It was certainly big enough to kind of bush-bash around. You can go all the way down the hill and to these gullies. I remember so many walks, we’d go for long hikes, we’d do Kangaroo Island and then down around Carrickalinga for a bit as well.
Yanto Browning: We did a lot of walking and hiking growing up. It’s beautiful up here as well but Adelaide has a very different coastline. Very stark in its beauty I think.
John Murch: Session quartet, Ed Kuepper.
Yanto Browning: Oh yeah. Tara had a way of… It was just serendipitous but she was not backwards in coming forwards so if she just happened to be around, she’d say, “Hey I’m around, I want to come and see you” and I was like “Okay, yeah, I’m just in the studio.” We were doing a record with Ed Kuepper from The Saints. He’s kind of called it The Ain’ts now I think.
Yanto Browning: He’d been revitalising some old Saints songs with a string quartet arrangement that Rob Davidson had been working on. Rob and Tara go way back because Rob Davidson played in Tara’s band for ages. Tara just happened to be around and she said “I think I’d like a string quartet in one of my songs too” and then she just kind of muscled in at the end of the session and we tracked the end of Achromatopsia during one of those sessions.
Yanto Browning: Then we did a string quartet and piano version of Ghost & The Silences. I’ll have to find one day and kind of release as a B-side or something.
Yanto Browning: It was beautiful, it was really nice. Rob Davidson just does wonderful arrangements and seems to suit what Tara does. Working on a string quartet version of some Saint’s songs with Ed and at the end of that session he left and the producer left, and Tara said “What do I need to give the string players to get them to stick around for half an hour and put this down?”.
Yanto Browning: I think we did it in two takes.
John Murch: I would have first played you I think back in 2004, Kate Miller-Heidke’s Telegram EP came out.
Yanto Browning: Oh yeah, yeah. That was some of the early work I did that got some traction. I still maintain that a half-deaf monkey probably could have not ruined a Kate Miller-Heidke record. It was nice to get the opportunity.
Yanto Browning: I have taken on a full time teaching role at QUT as of the last, what are we up to? Two and a half years now I guess? So in the year that Tara got crook 00:28:41 I think that was the first year, no it was 2018 and 2019 and now we’re in 2020.
Yanto Browning: I always maintain some, like a day or so, here and there of teaching music production and then having your first child and then having a mortgage, and then… I might flatter myself in saying that I may have been able to maintain a career and eke out enough freelance work to keep things going, but the hours, just the lifestyle. I miss it dearly, often, but also 12 hours days, six or seven days a week are not uncommon in the studio.
Yanto Browning: You still up until 10:00 and then you’d kind of be home between 8:00 and 10:00 maybe and the last night it might be even later still.
Yanto Browning: It just seemed like if you’re going to have children, you’re kind of committed to the idea that you need to be able to spend time with those children.
Yanto Browning: I started angling for some more work at QUT and was lucky enough to get some contract positions that eventually turned into a full-time position so I sort of transitioned out of freelancing and into comfortable middle-aged suburban existence where I could actually be a father to my child and be around my children and be around for their bath and bedtime rather than trying to get a vocal take right and rushing through the end of the day which isn’t really what you can be doing if you’re making records.
Yanto Browning: I’ve maintained a presence by doing records here and there. I recorded the Halfway record that came out. I think that’s a pretty good sounding record, they’re a great band.
Yanto Browning: I’m trying to think what else I’ve done recently. Leanne Tennant’s record I’ve worked on. I probably wasn’t half in the end, maybe a third of the songs on that? She’s great, she’s an amazing talent.
Yanto Browning: I would find time to do a week or two, every six months or so but I was finding that I was taking leave to work more. Life just felt like eventually it was becoming unsustainable because I could never have a holiday because I always had to be at work somewhere.
Yanto Browning: When I didn’t have any commitments, I was entirely fine with having my entire life be the studio because it’s quite a social thing as well. Although you meet people and then you become friends for a week or two weeks and then you might revitalise that friendship six months down the track, but I’d just forget names all the time because these people would drift in and out of my life.
Yanto Browning: If you’re in that world you’re a lifer and I spent the best part of my life in that world.
Yanto Browning: With Tara’s record, it became almost a transition out of freelancing because the free time I had available would then be allocated to what became a creative partnership rather than a gun for hire arrangement. It’s Tara’s record but in a way we’re co-creators. I think she’s the author but we kind of made it together.
John Murch: How are you feeling about being in the studio now that you don’t have that music collaborator at your side?
Yanto Browning: I’ll be honest with you I’ve had almost no kind of creative impulses. I’ve been… This past year has just flown by.
Yanto Browning: There’s a bunch of things downstairs, some are collecting dust. I pulled out some modular synthesizers to try and keep my two year old entertained the other day because they have lost of flashing lights and makes some pretty wacky noises and I’ve got a couple of Tara’s instruments that she left me.
Yanto Browning: But I haven’t really felt any urge to do much myself and I don’t feel like I need to push that at the moment. Down the line things might come… When I have been in the studio its been on very kind of technical jobs rather than creative jobs.
Yanto Browning: I’ve been engineering more than producing when I have been in the studio, mixing a bit where I don’t have to feel like I have to have creative contributions. The few times I’ve been in the studio in the past year is mostly been in the service of other people’s ideas.
Yanto Browning: I’ve been fine with that and either the urge will return and I’ll be well set up or somewhere down the line I’ll just start going “Do I need this much gear in my life anymore?” And starting to offload some of it and slip gently into a life of academia.
John Murch: And parenthood.
Yanto Browning: And parenthood, exactly.
Yanto Browning: I still have a studio in the valley that another local producer who’s doing amazing work, he’s just kind of leasing it off me now and even with Tara’s record I didn’t really feel like I wanted to be in that environment.
Yanto Browning: I was quite happy doing stuff at my house and Tara had her little set-up at her house. We’d sneak into the QUT studios when I’d finished work some days when no one else was using them.
Yanto Browning: They were nice to have a generally blind eye to that.
John Murch: There’s a Tara Simmons Scholarship at QUT and was given to someone called Tessa Fleur, who has a song called Sunset Melancholy.
Yanto Browning: The Tara Simmons Scholarship is testament to the generosity and the character of Tara’s family who having inherited the estate of Tara decided that the best thing to do with that estate is to return it to the local music community and try and help out a musician and provide them with some support that’ll hopefully allow them to pursue dreams in a way that wouldn’t have been as possible otherwise.
Yanto Browning: That’s through the QUT Bachelor of Fine Arts music program.
Yanto Browning: Tessa is the first recipient and hopefully will have a chance to connect soon after this COVID stuff calms down.
John Murch: Coby Grant’s latest album is called Small Tits, Big Dreams which allegedly is the title that Tara gave the album.
Yanto Browning: That sounds like a Tara title.
John Murch: And there’s also a song for Tara. Have you had a listen to that song?
Yanto Browning: I think I heard a little bit of it on an Instagram, like a brief excerpt. I should go back and actually check that out.
John Murch: What music are you listening to right now when you’re not listening to the screams of children?
Yanto Browning: I’d been listening an awful lot to The Milk Carton Kids. I think because there’s just no studio trickery to be heard. Two guys just with two guitars, two voices, and a couple of microphones, and I love how they’ve pursued this minimalist aesthetic to the point where… And I’ve seen them live a couple of times.
Yanto Browning: I’m gutted that their tour have to be canceled because no one’s going to be coming into Australia.
Yanto Browning: So I’ve been on a real sort of neo-traditional folk trip and I listen to a lot of almost ambient electronica, Alessandro Cortini. I’ve really enjoyed the new Nine Inch Nails Ghosts record, almost like a film soundtrack stuff to a film that isn’t being made.
Yanto Browning: Stuff that doesn’t have vocals in it, I’ve been gravitating towards. I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe because it’s been also when I’ve been working doing kind of writing work. If there are people and I wear headphones a lot for that, if there are people talking in your ear I can’t think as clearly, but if the music is… It’s almost like post-classical minimalism in a way.
John Murch: I know we’re going back but you mentioned voices. What was it like recording the vocals in the hospital?
Yanto Browning: That was a tough thing. That was a real, you know, I’m sure it was much tougher for Tara who knew she was about to die and had to summon up the strength to actually sing. But just to see and kind of be confronted with that stage of life and death, but to still be concerned with the practicalities of recording levels and the quality of the take.
Yanto Browning: Midsummer and we had to turn off the air conditioning in the Pall-care ward and shut the windows to keep all the industrial noise out. You can hear all the air conditioners around outside of the hospital.
Yanto Browning: It was pretty stuffy. It was the most confronting mix of the mundane technicalities of noise and the inconvenience of heat and the sort of sacred experience of seeing somebody coming to terms with the end of their life and finding a way to express that through a song.
Yanto Browning: I’d be kind of worrying about the microphone position and then realising that you probably wouldn’t ever be making music together again.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, that was hard. My daughter would have been just past one at the time. They came to say hi when we’d finished and then we brought her a treat in a glass jar which then she proceeded to smash on the floor, so then my final memory of the session is that sort of mundane, here’s Tara perched on the bed and there’s a hospital wardie with a broom cleaning up this kind of mess as we say goodbye and I cart out recording gear.
Yanto Browning: Little Tara just perched on the bed. I’ll never forget that day. That was hard.
Yanto Browning: I’m so glad we managed to get it done.
John Murch: That’s on the record. People can hear those vocals.
Yanto Browning: That’s on the record and we only wrote the second verse just before we sang it. She’d never got that second verse written so we wrote the second verse together to try and go through some other places Tara had been, where she could have died suddenly and violently, but didn’t.
John Murch: That’s her humor coming through.
Yanto Browning: Yeah we joked about calling the record Ten Songs About Boys and a Song About Dying, and that was always the song about dying.
Yanto Browning: The rest of the record, it alludes to it but never deals with it directly.
John Murch: What are you reading at the moment?
Yanto Browning: I just finished East of Eden. That was a great book. I’m reading a book on American minimalism. I forget who wrote that and I have to read a bunch of stuff for work so my reading tends to be quite academically focused.
Yanto Browning: What else is on my bedside table? I’ve got a book about Brisbane, Boy Swallows Universe, I love that book. That was great.
John Murch: Trent Dalton.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, that was great. Gave me a whole new appreciation of Brisbane because I didn’t grow up here. I only came here when I was 19 or 20. I finished that recently too.
John Murch: Talking about the PhD, I have no idea what you’re writing about.
Yanto Browning: Oh no, let’s not talk about that.
John Murch: No?
Yanto Browning: Not finished, no one wants to talk about that until it’s done. No, it’s kind of about music and place and the relationship between the two but I’m still trying to figure out some of what that means.
John Murch: I’ve got Indie 100 India 2018 on my list of readings downloaded, another paper that you did.
Yanto Browning: Oh wow. That was with Kristina Kelman. I feel like she did the heavy lifting on that one to be honest and I was more part of the making the indie… Because we go to India every year and make some records over there.
John Murch: Do you?
Yanto Browning: Which is pretty crazy. That happened as well in the months leading up to Tara’s record being finished.
Yanto Browning: Each November, December, we go to India, cut 10 songs with some local artists and try and build some connections with that growing market which is going to be harder again now that no one’s going anywhere.
John Murch: Let’s return to the record you did with Tara and particularly the lineup of it. Contributing performers on drums for example, I’ve jotted down Chris O’Neill but there’s a bit of consistency in terms of the performers across the record as well.
Yanto Browning: Yeah well Chris O’Neill had played with Tara for the best part of 20 years. He’s really busy working it out for him now and he’s in Melbourne so we had to find a weekend studio we could get studio time, that he was free, that Tara was healthy, but it was great that was managed to get him on.
Yanto Browning: The majority of the drumming is Chris and the two tracks with Sam Hales, Tara was just really enamored with the drum sounds of The Jungle Giant’s record Quiet Ferocity.
Yanto Browning: I’ve worked on the first Jungle Giant’s record and Tara knows Sam because she’s really good friends with Sam’s sister Emma. Then Konsty who recorded and mixed the last record is an old friend of mine and he’s now the guy who’s leasing the studio so I talk to Konsty all the time.
Yanto Browning: When it came to… I’d be in the studio trying to deal with the samples or Chris would be there but we’d only have a big live room so we couldn’t kind of get the dead sound that we’re after and eventually I just went “Tara, let’s just ask them if we can just get them to do two songs because I’m just going around in circles trying to replicate that sound and we might as well just ask the people who made it to see if they can help.”
Yanto Browning: We called those the potato drums because they just sound so flat, kind of dead sounding, and yeah Sam and Konsty gave us a day in the studio, so did Empire Studios where we cut it. That was those two songs that served the sort of LCD Soundsystem vibe for those.
Yanto Browning: Then James Wright plays in a band with Dean McGrath, Dean had been driving force in helping Ghost & The Silences finally come together because that’s another song we had floating around for ages.
John Murch: He pops up on Beg & Plead doesn’t he?
Yanto Browning: Those songs wouldn’t have probably been finished if it wasn’t for Dean. Certainly not to the kind of extent that they feel so complete now. Ghost had been kicking around for years. We played that live as CastleRays and then we did the piano and string quartet version.
Yanto Browning: Then Dean heard the original and went “Nah, this is going to work, let’s just do this do it.” And then Tara and he spent some time in the studio. Really great production on that.
Yanto Browning: Really its ass-backwards because you start with drums and all the songs with live drums have final things we did with drums. Let’s go and set up the final things with Sam’s drums.
Yanto Browning: Most of the songs that Chris played on Final Things drums. Ghost & The Silences, Tara came out of pallative… that was maybe one of the last times I saw… That was after the vocal session, she came a few days after the vocal session with her mum, so her mum could see how things go in the studio.
Yanto Browning: That was at Plutonium who again, were generous in giving us some studio time, so we spent half a day at Plutonium with James getting down the drums for Ghost & The Silences and Tara came to check on them so Julie could have some time with her in the studio.
John Murch: She was fighting to the end but in a way of determination in terms of getting that album done with you.
Yanto Browning: It gave her a focal point. It was something that I don’t have the experience that she’s had but as an observer it seems like time in the studio is like time in some other pursuit.
Yanto Browning: I think they call it… In academia they call it flow where you’re in the moment. If you’re in the moment you kind of lose track of time a little bit but also you’re not burdened by the concerns of your life. That to me seems to hold true even to dealing with terminal illness in it that there are moments where you can enter this kind of creative state and escape that for a time.
Yanto Browning: I think that’s what Tara found in pottery. Quite sure that that’s what she found occasionally in music and that’s not to say that the day would disappear and it would be nothing but that, but you could steal moments of it.
Yanto Browning: You can tell when Tara was able to… It was a way to relieve the burden for a time. That to me is as important of what people think of the record because that was the purpose it was making and I’m glad we got it done to an extent that I know that she would have been happy with it.
Yanto Browning: I know that meant a lot to her but even just the making of it was the purpose I think.
John Murch: In the end that her biggest worry was “I can’t finish my record on time, it feels like my legacy because I don’t have kiddies.” Well, she has the record. It’s out, it’s available.
Yanto Browning: Yeah and that is also all of the crew, you know like Viv and Maggie, Dean, I’m going to forget people because I’m always terrible when it comes to this… Ang Kohler, the people who have helped make that record, everyone at GYROstream, the people who’ve helped the record see the light of day.
Yanto Browning: Tyler McLoughlan has been instrumental and key-
John Murch: A legend.
Yanto Browning: Yeah, an absolute legend. One of Tara’s good friends but also just so amazing when its come to all the nuts and bolts, things that I couldn’t do.
Yanto Browning: I always joke that I make sausages, I don’t know how to sell them, so that team has been instrumental in making sure that that concern of Tara’s needn’t have been a concern.